Math is a topic that frightens the best of mothers. If you didn’t especially love math yourself, you might be thoroughly intimidated at the thought of teaching math to your own children.
If you were raised in a public or private school setting, it’s easy to see why math might be difficult for you. In a classroom of 15-30 students, if one child doesn’t catch on to a concept, the teacher cannot reasonably hold up the entire class while waiting for that one student. However, day after day, week after week, the confused child is left further and further behind. She usually starts to give up, saying that she’s not really very good at math anyway.
There are several stages in math where children tend to get behind the rest of their class. The first is when learning their addition and subtraction facts. If a child can’t recall these facts quickly enough to keep up with story problems, timed drills, and tests, it can appear that she just doesn’t understand math at all. The same thing happens when learning multiplication and division. Fractions, decimals, and percentages are all introduced shortly after, yet some kids are so busy trying to remember what 6×8 is, that they completely miss the process for multiplying two fractions together. Finally, algebra arrives, when students are expected to be able to keep up with complex reasoning. Again, if a student has never gained speed on his math facts, he’s going to have trouble understanding an explanation of binomial equations.
If you were one of those students, have no fear! Teaching math is a lot like teaching your child to tie his shoe, cook, or drive a car. You only need to know a little bit more than your student knows, and you can learn with him, by doing it with him.
Know the Facts
Slow down and get those facts learned, with your child. A child should first learn to add and subtract up to 20 (1 + 19 = 20, 2 + 18 = 20, etc.). This should be instant recall. It’s fine to use manipulatives, dominoes, pennies, and even fingers when first learning, but eventually, your child just needs to know his facts.
One teacher said, “I’ve taught math for almost 20 years in the higher grades. I want to stress how important knowing facts are for future ease of learning. Math facts are to higher-level math what alphabet sounds are to reading. If kids don’t know their basic facts, they get bogged down thinking about these things rather than the bigger picture in the more advanced problems.”
The same thing applies to multiplication and division facts. Around the age of 9 or 10, start focusing on these facts, up to 12 (12 x 12, 144 ÷ 12, etc.).
There are many excellent ways to help your child memorize math facts.
- Daily Math Drills. Be sure not to neglect doing daily Math Drills. These are designed to help you systematically teach and review all of the math facts — and have fun doing it! Even if you’re using another arithmetic curriculum, these drills can help you out.
- Competition. Games and the thrill of victory are some of the most fun parts of learning, and they provide many opportunities for teaching good sportsmanship and kindness as well. Friendly competition has been known to bring out the math genius in children for thousands of years.
- Rewards. Especially on long winter days, a simple reward or treat can go a long way toward helping a child feel motivated.
- Visualize. Draw pictures, make charts, and do math in the kitchen.
Use technology to your advantage to help you out, too, especially when life is busy for you. Here are some of the best math game sites:
There are countless apps for tablets, iphones, and ipads as well.
Make Math Real
One homeschool graduate pointed out,
“First, I am not a parent nor a teacher so I can only speak to my personal experiences, but I did double major in math and physics, and I’m currently working on a doctorate in physics. I know math, I love math, and I like to think I’m pretty good at it. I hated math up until pre-algebra and algebra, and to this day I’m still pretty terrible at arithmetic considering my background. (The fact that physicists can’t do arithmetic is a pretty common joke).
“Math facts are always presented as something you just need to memorize and know, yet I hated that aspect of it. Addition and subtraction are simply adding more or taking away from a group. Multiplication is the idea of grouping things and then adding those groups together. Math is much more about problem solving and thinking through why you are manipulating things (groups, numbers, functions, whatever). I don’t see memorization of math facts as being helpful past manipulating numbers quickly, but in most higher mathematics you don’t use numbers at all. It’s all about ideas and figuring out how things work. I think more kids would like math if they saw that side of it earlier instead of being bludgeoned with memorization games.
“The way we teach math is like making kids do 5 years worth of spelling and grammar tests without letting them read any books. Sure they have a place, but I bet a lot fewer kids would like reading if we took that approach to teaching English.”
Whether we agree with this graduate or not, we need to acknowledge why we’re teaching math to our children. In Scripture, YHWH chose “the work of skilled craftsman” to build His tabernacle and temple. Be sure to include plenty of real-life “story problems” so that your children can apply their arithmetic skills to life and learn to become “skilled craftsman” in the service of their Creator. Applying math to “real life” is what makes it interesting! The memorization of math facts only serves the function of making life a little easier.
P.S. Teaching high-school math? Check out Lee Binz’s article on High School Math Without the Moaning >>